A Periphery As The Center – The Erdohat: Hungary’s Forsaken & Beloved Land

I used to think that the Nyirseg, a region in the far reaches of eastern Hungary covered by birch trees, dunes and reclaimed marshland was the remotest in the country. A place largely untouched by modern tourism. That was until I learned about the Erdohat, a region even further out on Hungary’s eastern frontier. It occupies the southern part of Szabolcs-Szatmar-Bereg County. The Erdohat is so remote that it has even managed to largely escape the internet’s attention. Google Erdohat and the search engine returns 527 results, compared with 60,900 for the Nyirseg. If the Nyirseg is Hungary’s land of beyond, then the Erdohat is the back of beyond. A place that shows a way much of Hungary used to be and parts of it are likely to become in the future. A glimpse of the country before industrialization and urbanization. The idea of cities is anathema to the Erdohat. The largest town, Fehergyarmet, has a population of just over 8,000 people. This is a land of villages, some have called it the quintessential Hungary, which is another way of saying traditional, rural and agricultural. A region where people still live off a combination of their wits and the land.

To another world - Szatmárcseké Cemetery

To another world – Szatmárcseké Cemetery (Credit: fuzlac23)

Notable For A Lack Of Notoriety – An Island To Itself
Time has a different meaning in the Erdohat, measured by lifespans rather than days or decades. It is pliable, rather than rigid. No one is in a hurry, because there is nowhere to go. Horse drawn trumps horse power. This all sounds wonderful for those urban dwellers who long for fresh air and natural beauty. The reality is much harsher. This is a hardscrabble land, economically backward. It is not so much forgotten, as forsaken. The way of life here would be more familiar to someone a century ago, even though the industrial age brought cars, paved roads and electricity. These are not of the essence, because modernity has touched this area lightly. Technology is kept at a distance as much by indifference as limited incomes. There is a refreshing simplicity about the area. A place that is most notable for its lack of notoriety.

The Erdohat is not a forgotten land, more like a forsaken one. Some might even call this the real Hungary, secure in the knowledge that they will never live there and only pay it a rare visit. It seems romantic from a distance, mostly by those who do not have to eke out a living on it. Isolation has been the rule rather the exception here for centuries. This isolation connects the Erdohat’s present to its deep past. The region was shaped by flooding that consumed the area south of the Tisza River. Swamp, morass, marshland was thus formed. This isolated many villages, making them islands unto themselves. The many invaders that ravaged or occupied other areas of Hungary showed little interest in trying to tame this wild land. The roads were bad, the villages secluded. The inhabitants were left to their own devices. If they wanted this land, they could have it. It was not easy, even for the hard-bitten locals to find high or dry land, let own scratch a living from the soggy soil.

18th century map of land cover - Szatmar Plain

18th century map of land cover – Szatmar Plain

A Truly Wild Land – The Few & Far Between
An 18th century map of the Szatmar Plain, which contains the Erdohat, shows a wide, contiguous swath of the area labeled as either mud or marshland. As part of an ancient flood plain it suffered innumerable inundations and continued to until the dawn of the modern age. This decided the area’s fate thousands of years before Hungarians attempted to tame it. Like all truly wild places, the Erdohat’s landscape had more influence on its inhabitants than they on it. That was until the great river regulations which transformed it during the 19th century. Drainage canals and ditches made the land much more inhabitable and receptive to agriculture. The area had previously been home to thick forests, but along with drainage of the land, much of the forest was removed to make the Erdohat suitable for agriculture. These changes never really did end the region’s isolation, though it brought more settlement to the region. It was geopolitics rather than the environment which confirmed the Erdohat’s remote status. When the borders of Hungary were trimmed after World War I, the Erdohat became the eastern edge of the country. A state of geography which still exists today.

The true value of the Erdohat for many Hungarians is that it evokes the rural, a magnetic attraction to the land. A unique culture still exists here, protected by insularity and cultivated by seclusion. To discover the Erdohat’s highlights one must seek out the few and far between places, ones that offer a window into the soul of a stranger land. Quaint folk customs and age-old traditions continue to thrive, the kind that make ethnographers and anthropologists salivate. Churches with wooden spires and belfries are among the most prominent architectural features. It only makes sense that one of the strangest and most iconic sights is to be found in a cemetery. The Szatmarcseke Calvinist Cemetery, located in a village of the same name, contains boat shaped wooden tombstones. Such markers infuse the cemetery with a distinct spirit. Nowhere to be found are the harsh concrete or polished tombstones which are hallmarks of modern cemeteries. The people may have died, but they are marked by this unique reverence. The way of life goes on in the Erdohat with no end in sight.

Reformed Church in Fehergyarmat

In the heart – Reformed Church in Fehergyarmat (Credit: Kalyob)

The Center Of A Nation – Back To Nature
Of course, like much of Hungary the Erdohat suffers from demographic decline, but suffering is nothing new in a landscape that was long known for its forbidding nature. Survival defines the Erdohat more than prosperity. Life is hard here and always will be. As the population declines, nature will slowly retake many of the old villages. Vacant houses crumble, villages die out. While sad, this also seems to be the natural state of things for this land. The Erdohat now consumes more people than it produces. If anything, it is becoming increasingly remote from the rest of Hungary. At the same time, it is a storehouse of nature, folk culture, rural life and traditional values that Hungarians hold deep in their hearts. The center of a nation found on the periphery.

“At Least It’s Not Szolnok” – Excitement In The Worst Way Possible: A Tragedy On The Great Hungarian Plain

Not that long ago I was having a conversation with an in-law about the dullness of Debrecen, Hungary’s second largest city. I am always astonished at how static and boring the city seems. Though it has a population of over 200,000 and includes one of the largest universities in Hungary, there is little nightlife and a palpable sense of malaise. Outside of the city’s main thoroughfare, Piac Utca, there is little to see and even less to do. The energy level in the city is extremely low. Street life and café culture are benign. The largest crowd I have witnessed during multiple trips to the city was at the mall, a nice, but hardly memorable shopping complex. Debrecen reminds me of suburbia in the United States, fairly prosperous, with cleanly swept streets and people going about their business in a dutiful manner. It could be called the most American of European cities. My in-law, who grew up in Debrecen, agreed with me about the city’s subdued demeanor and stultifying dullness. He then added, “It could be worse, at least it’s not Szolnok.” I replied with nervous laughter. Our conversation soon moved on to other subjects, but his remark about Szolnok stuck with me.

Szolnok Railway Station

The Szolnok Railway Station – the 1970’s all over again (Credit: NordestOnTour )

Pass Through Place – Szolnok From A Window
I am always proud to tell people, for no reason in particular, that I have been to every one of Hungary’s 19 counties. It is a sort of trivial badge of travel honor. Who else can say that? Then again, who else would want to say that? The remark usually elicits puzzled looks. Yet for all my travels in Hungary I have never really been to Szolnok. I say “never really” because stopping at the train station countless times does not count to me as a visit. In the same way that the Midwest is flyover country in America, Szolnok is a pass through place in Hungary. It is the kind of city that one goes through very briefly on the way to somewhere else. When I have asked Hungarians what they think of Szolnok the reply can be summed up as a blank stare, followed by “I have never been there” or “went through there on a train many times.” Ask if there is anything to see in Szolnok and the stock answer is always the same, “well the Tisza goes through there.”

The city’s setting at the confluence of the Tisza with the Zagyva River made it a point of transit as well as contention for centuries. Szolnok must hold some sort of record for sieges in a Hungarian city, as it has been the setting for no less than 68 of them. With these came the usual pillage, destruction and rebuilding. The Tisza River is certainly Szolnok’s most memorable landmark that can be seen from a train window. Almost invariably there will be a few fishermen standing on its banks, staring stoically at their lines. Everything else is reminiscent of the Iron Curtain decades, concrete apartment blocks and a large, functionalist style train station that looks as though it came straight out of a 1960’s era Central Party Planning unit.

Former Szolnok Train Station

Former Szolnok Train Station (fortepan.hu)

Trains, Planes & Tragedy – A Crossroads In The Crossfire
Trains have played an outsized role in the history of modern Szolnok, for both good and ill. Just over a year after the first railroad was built in Hungary a one hundred kilometer stretch of track was constructed between Szolnok and Cegled to the west. The city soon became a major railway junction for trains headed in every direction across the Great Hungarian Plain. Transport links brought economic development and prosperity as well as tragedy to Szolnok. During the 20th century the city suffered grave damage in the aftermath of World War I and during the latter part of the Second World War. As a key transit point it was targeted by invaders from below and above.  The Hungarian Red Army battled Romanian forces along the Tisza at Szolnok for two and a half months in 1919. During this fighting, the railroad bridge over the Tisza was destroyed. Twenty-five years later, Allied bombers rained destruction down on the city, specifically targeting the rail yard and station. By the end of the war, Szolnok had lost close to 90% of its population. The city was rebuilt, but most of its aesthetically pleasing architecture was gone forever.

The railroad helped Szolnok prosper in the post-war period, but it also led to several terrible train crashes. One of the few things Hungarians mentioned to me when I asked about Szolnok concerned these disasters. This is shocking, but not surprising since the city is home to one of the largest rail switchyards in Hungary. On Christmas Eve 1963, 45 people were killed and dozens more injured when a passenger train slammed into a standing freight train. The crash was caused by an engineer failing to notice a red warning signal light. Then in 1994 a train at Szajol (on the eastern outskirts of Szolnok) blew past a false switch while traveling at 110 kilometers per hour, hurtling into a station building, killing 29 people and injuring 52. There have been a couple of other rail accidents at Szolnok that have led to deaths since then. It seems that Szolnok has had its fair share of excitement, but not the kind that would make anyone want to visit.

Tisza River at Szolnok, Hungary

Tisza River at Szolnok, Hungary (Credit: Derzsi Elekes Andor)

It Could Be Worse – The Appeal of Dullness
Is there anything interesting besides train crashes and the Tisza when it comes to Szolnok? I cannot say from personal experience since I have never actually set foot in the city proper. Furthermore, I have yet to meet any Hungarians who have traveled to the city for a reason other than to visit family. Because of its tragic past, I am sure normality to the point of anonymity suits the inhabitants of Szolnok. This is a place where history is a dark and dirty word. The future, like the present might be dull, but that is a vast improvement over much worse times. After learning about the city’s history, the phrase “it could be worse, at least it’s not Szolnok” has taken on a whole new meaning.

 

The State of Nature – Danube-Ipolya National Park: Flowing Back To Life

The Danube, Hungary’s most famous river, plays a critical role in the nation’s history. It flows though ten centuries of Hungarian history. If geography is destiny, than the Danube is Hungary’s. The five historic capitals of Hungary have all been located along its banks: Esztergom, Buda, Visegrad, Pozsony (Bratislava) and Budapest. The nation’s largest city by a factor of ten, Budapest, blossomed into a major European metropolis due to its location straddling the Danube. The river facilitated economic trade for centuries and helped lead an industrial boom during the 19th century with steamships plying the slate gray waters. It both divided and united Budapest. In the 20th century one of its islands, Csepel, became the throbbing, belching industrial center of the nation. It is hard to overstate the Danube’s role in creating modern Hungary, which is really the creation of 19th and 20th century Budapest. Put another way, consider two questions inextricably linked: where would Hungary be without Budapest and where would Budapest be without the Danube? One cannot exist without the other.

The Danube River in northern Hungary

The Danube River as viewed from Visegrad in northern Hungary

A Danubian Paradox – Against the Current
All other Hungarian rivers pale in comparison to the Danube, just as all other Hungarian cities pale in comparison to Budapest. The lack of awareness concerning the many watercourses which crisscross the Carpathian Basin is understandable in light of the Danube’s outsized prominence. It overshadows Hungary’s second and longest river, the Tisza. In Hungary the Tisza may stretch three times the length of the Danube, but it still becomes a tributary of the latter. The Danube swallows the Tisza not far beyond the Hungarian border in northern Serbia. The rest of Hungary’s rivers might be summed up as, “there are some, but there might as well be none.” Knowledge of Hungarian rivers besides those two largest happens to all but nonexistent. The Maros, Körös or Rába do not make anyone’s list of memorable waterways.

It is obvious that only the Danube has the prestige and power to stir the national imagination. This is ironic since the Danube feeds off other waterways. It reverses the course of nature, as prey comes to predator. The magnificent river that flows into Budapest is largely a product of its tributaries. Viewing the Danube from the Chain Bridge is a window into the contents of innumerable streams and rivers, a whole made from constituent parts. Those parts have been subsumed by the mighty main stem of the Danube, but without them the river would not exist. The intermingling of waters creates its own natural paradox. Somewhere submerged in this paradox is a river all but lost. It can only be recovered by heading upstream, against the prevailing current.

Ipoly River in Slovakia

Ipoly River – a tamed stretch in Slovakia

The River Tamed – Meandering Into Oblivion
A natural remnant and subtle wonder awaits discovery at Danube-Ipoly National Park. The park offers an opportunity to experience one of the lesser known, but no less important tributaries of the Danube in a natural setting. The second part of the park’s name comes from the River Ipoly. With its headwaters in Slovakia, the Ipoly winds its way through the northern uplands of Hungary and the Borszony Hills, then on into the Danube. The Ipoly snakes across a total of 212 kilometers (144 miles). Much like the Danube, it has been straightened in order to limit a natural tendency to meander and flood. Despite mankind’s harnessing of the Ipoly, flooding is a natural process that is the hallmark of a healthy river. In modern Hungary, like the rest of the developed world, flooding is something to be feared rather than admired.

The Iploy may be much smaller and tepid than the Danube, but it is also shares a similar trait. Both rivers have been narrowed and tamed. The state of nature that exists for both of these today is nothing like the wild, roiling rivers that existed less than two centuries ago. These rivers bear little resemblance to their former selves. A river’s power to strike fear in the hearts of Hungarians has been all but lost. From life giver to destroyer to tourist attraction the moderation of nature seems nearly complete. Straightened channels make disaster improbable, catastrophes all but impossible. Technology has tamed nature, helped manage disaster and led to a less than healthy respect the true power of a river. The change has been so rapid, the transformation so complete, that hardly anyone notices. Fortunately there is a vestige that still remains. The remnant of a river’s past awaiting rediscovery.

Ipoly River in Danube-Ipoly National Park

Back to a state of nature – the Ipoly River in Danube-Ipoly National Park

The Ipoly – Flowing Back To Life
In Hungary, the Danube may get all the glory, but the Ipoly has one pristine stretch that is the rarest of natural exceptions protected in the national park. For twelve splendid kilometers (7 miles) along the Hungarian-Slovak border the Ipoly flows freely. This is one of the last remaining stretches of a wild river in Hungary, offering an immersive experience in nature and natural history. Wetlands abound. Water inundates the land adjacent to the river, creating a multitude of marshes. The saturated flood plain is as much about sound as it is sight. The river languidly flowing acts as a deep and soothing soundtrack. The Ipolya, offers a voice from the past, expressing the true state of nature.

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Buried Beneath The Tisza: Huns, Magyars & the Mystery of Attila’s The Huns Tomb

The town of Tiszafured is located just a few kilometers east of Lake Tisza in eastern Hungary. The lake was created over a half century ago when the Tisza River was dammed for flood control. A very different type of dam was created on the Tisza in the mid-5th century. This first damming of the river has become legendary. The event and the location where it took place will always be shrouded in mystery. It has yet to be discovered and likely never will be. It is the story of a treasure that may or may not still exist somewhere in or close to the Tisza River. This treasure goes back to a time before the arrival of the Magyars in the Carpathian Basin, when the most famous warrior to ever grace the grasslands of the Great Hungarian Plain left a lasting mark on European history. His short lived empire and his people vanished not long after he did into a watery grave. Modern Hungary has largely inherited the legacy of Attila and the Huns, it may have inherited even more than that if a certain discovery can ever be made.

Attila the Hun - 19th century artistic depiction

Attila the Hun – 19th century artistic depiction (Credit Eugene Delacroix)

Huns Are Not Magyars & Magyars Are Not Huns
A newcomer to Hungary will likely notice the popularity of the male name, Attila. Innumerable Hungarian men have it as their first name. It is also commonly used for street names. Budapest has many different Attila utcas (streets), as does almost every village in Hungary. The assumption that the name’s popularity comes from the famed nomadic warrior Attila the Hun is correct. Conversely, an assumption is often made that Attila was an early forebear of the Hungarians and that the Hungarians are direct ancestors of the Huns.  This is incorrect. The two peoples arrived in the Carpathian Basin over four hundred years apart. What both had in common is that they originated in the eastern steppe grasslands of Asia.

The Magyars were given the misnomer of Hungarians because the Germanic peoples that they raided and plundered considered them to be relations of the rapacious Huns. This might be expected, since the Huns left scars on European history that even centuries later were still recalled. The Huns appeared in Europe during the latter part of the 4th century, rampaging across the late Roman Empire. They were the prototypical ferocious, nomadic warriors from the east. By the time Attila’s reign began in 434 AD the Huns were on the verge of overrunning all of civilized Europe. Hun incursions into Western Europe were finally put to a halt in 451 AD at the Battle of Chalons in northeastern France. Attila died just three years later and the Hunnic Empire crumbled a mere decade and a half after his death. It is believed that the tribe was then absorbed by the Bulgars.

Hungarian (Magyar) Conquest of the Carpathian Basin - the Magyars arrived 450 years after the Huns

Hungarian (Magyar) Conquest of the Carpathian Basin – the Magyars arrived 450 years after the Huns (Credit: Chronicon Pictum)

Magyars & Hungarians: The Same, But By A Different Name
The Hungarians, much like the Huns four and a half centuries before them, suddenly appeared in the Carpathian Basin. They were also fierce, nomadic warriors on horseback raiding into the heart of Europe, but they did not share kinship with the Huns. The Hungarians were actually Magyars, a name they gave to themselves. Even today they refer to their country as Magyarorszag. Orszag means country in the Hungarian language, thus Magyarorszag means Magyar country.

So how did Magyarorszag come to be called Hungary by the rest of the world? Before the Magyars arrived in the Carpathian Basin the dominant group in that area was an alliance of Bulgarian tribes. They referred to their land as On-ogur. The Magyars took over On-ogur, becoming the dominant ethnic group. Even so, neighboring peoples, especially Germanic ones, continued to refer to the area as On-ogur. This was translated into Latin as Ungarus, from which we get the word Hungary. This is a lot more confusing than false conflations of Magyars with Huns. Keep in mind that even though the Huns were not Hungarians, the heart of their short-lived empire was located in what is today the modern nation of Hungary. Besides archaeological finds, the Hunnic Empire’s legacy has been obscured by legend and myth.

The death of Attila the Hun

The death of Attila the Hun – an artistic depiction

A Marriage Sealed By Blood
Popular history’s perception of the Huns might well change if one of the most coveted hidden treasures in all of Europe, the burial tomb of Attila the Hun is ever unearthed. In 454 AD Attila had just married a beautiful young German princess by the name of Ildico. During the evening following their wedding, Attila feasted and some believe drank to excess. The next morning he was found dead with his face covered in blood. Ildico was cowering in the corner of their bedroom. It was believed that she had committed treachery, murdering her husband on their wedding night. She was promptly killed. Strangely there was no wound found on Attila. It is believed that either he had suffered one of the all-time worst nose bleeds or that his esophagus had ruptured. One way or another he had bled to death.

The deceased king of the Huns was prepared for one of history’s grandest funerals. He was buried in a triple coffin encased in first gold (to show his wealth and glory), then silver (to show his kinship with the moon and river) and finally iron (to show his strength). Myth and historical fact mix from this point forward. Suffice to say that Hun engineers are said to have diverted the Tisza River long enough to dry up the main river bed. Attila was entombed there in his magnificent sarcophagus. The Tisza was then released with the grave site quickly inundated. To ensure that no one tried to desecrate their great leader’s body or excavate the untold treasures the pallbearers were slain. No details have ever emerged concerning the specific location of the burial site.

The waters of Lake Tisza

The waters of Lake Tisza may conceal a deeper understanding of Attila the Hun (Credit: Nixalsverdrus)

What Legends Are Made Of
Since the Tisza has undergone both natural and manmade changes over the last sixteen hundred years there is no telling where Attila’s tomb could be located. It could be somewhere deep beneath a farm field, since in many areas the hand of man has reshaped the river’s ancient course. Or it could be hundreds of feet beneath the glistening blue waters of Lake Tisza. That is if it survives at all. How much of it is left or in what condition it might have survived is open to speculation. What seems certain is that the burial site of Attila the Hun and its accompanying treasure will continue to exercise a powerful hold on the imagination. This is the stuff that both history and legends are made of.

Unrealized Potentials – Traveling the Tisza River

Thousands of tourists cruise the waters of the Danube River each summer. Along the way they have the opportunity to pass through four European Capitals, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade. They might also float by such historic cities as Ulm, Regensburg and Linz among many others.  Those traveling further down the Danube to Belgrade might fail to notice one of its most important tributaries across from the non-descript Serbian village of Novi Slakamene. It is here that another important European river has its mouth. This river is the largest left bank tributary of the Danube, though rarely given much thought or recognition. It is called the Tisza. Unlike the Danube’s most famous stretches that flow through the heart of Central Europe, the Tisza is both naturally and culturally an Eastern European river from its headwaters high in the Carpathian Mountains of Ukraine to its meandering course across the Great Hungarian Plain all the way down to its mouth in northern Serbia. The Tisza has a rich, distinct history almost entirely unknown. Though it lacks the cultural cachet and name recognition of the Danube, the Tisza has its own delights, offering adventure and discovery of the unknown.

Map of the Tisza River and the southern part of the Danube

Map of the Tisza River and the southern part of the Danube

Taming the Tisza – Placing Nature In A Straitjacket
Like all major rivers in Europe, the Tisza as it exists today is very different from its original form. The most dramatic changes to the river have occurred over the last two hundred years. The forces of industrialization, technological change and modernization all in the name of economic development reshaped the river. In the process, the Tisza’s flow was transformed from a serpentine course to a relatively straight and much more navigable waterway. Staring at the languid waters of the Tisza today, one gets the sense that the river is rather benign. This is deceiving. Not that long ago the Tisza was a wild, dangerous river that periodically inundated the surrounding landscape, tormenting villagers who relied on its waters for their livelihood. The project to tame the river took decades. It was massive, especially by the standards of the 19th century. When it began in 1846, the river stretched 1,419 kilometers (880 miles), equivalent to the distance from Amsterdam to Budapest.

By the time “regulation of the Tisza” was complete, the river had been considerably shortened. 453 kilometers (280 miles) of bends and ox bows had been cut off. Ships and barges were now able to travel further up the Tisza into the heartland of the Kingdom of Hungary.  This expedited commerce, especially the transport of grain. The areas through which the Tisza flowed became a breadbasket for the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  In the late 19th century, the river had taken on its present form. With the Tisza’s development, cities along its shores also grew, but never to the extent that those along the Danube did. Cities such as Szeged and Szolnok blossomed, but never grew in size anywhere close to the extent of Budapest or Belgrade. The Tisza had become what it still pretty much is today, an important, albeit economic backwater. In essence, a vital artery for the region it drained and flowed through, but of no greater significance outside of its adjacent region.

The Tisza at Szeged, Hungary

The Tisza at Szeged, Hungary – the largest city on the river (Credit: Zsolt Varadi)

Tourism & the Tisza – A Confluence Of Pleasures
The same could be said of the Tisza’s present day tourism potential. If one is looking to get away from the crowds on and along the Danube, then following the Tisza can certainly result in a unique experience. Those traveling on the river are most likely to start in Tokaj, Hungary, the center of a UNESCO World Heritage Wine Region Cultural Landscape. They then cruise down to Szeged, famed for its beautiful turn of the 20th century architecture that stemmed from a massive effort to rebuild the city in the wake of catastrophic flooding from the Tisza in 1879.  Further down, the river meets the mighty Danube at Novi Slankamen in the Vojvodina region of Serbia. That is as far as most travelers are likely to venture along the Tisza, they have little idea that the most interesting areas are much further upstream.

The adventurous need to seek out the Tisza’s wilder upper reaches. The provincial hub of Rakhiv, Ukraine is the top destination for this area. Almost totally unknown even today, Rakhiv has only become accessible since the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Tisza proper begins here as the waters of the White and Black Tisza, streams that flow down from the highest reaches of the Ukrainian Carpathians unite at Rakhiv. This is a much different version of the Tisza than the more familiar one in Hungary.  The river’s current is swift and sure as it runs through a valley that it helped carve over many millennia. This is not the place for genteel cruising. Instead it is a playground for recreational paddlers with the river running swift and sure, the nature wild and untamed.

The Upper Tisza at Rakhiv, Ukraine

The Upper Tisza at Rakhiv, Ukraine (Credit: Ivan Bil)

Eastern Approaches – Against The Shores of Progress
Incidentally for all the remoteness of its upper reaches, the Tisza flows within a few feet of what was once deemed the geographical center of Europe. Just 15 kilometers from Rakhiv is the small village of Dilove. This was where the center of Europe was located by a team of Austro-Hungarian geographers in 1887. Today this designation is open to much debate, but it is striking that all of Dilove’s competition can be found in Eastern Europe as well. Who would have thought that the obscure upper reaches of the Tisza would run right through what many consider the geographical center of Europe? Most fascinating of all, for both paddlers and travelers, is the fact that the upper Tisza straddles the Ukraine – Romania border. On one side stands a society still trying to escape from the legacy of Soviet influence, on the other a member of the European Union. This is one of three stretches along the Tisza where this occurs. The others are the Ukraine – Hungary and Hungary-Serbia border. The Tisza as it stands today is not just a river, but also a border, where the old Eastern Europe washes up against the shores of the new.

Traces of Transcarpathia’s Progress: Nyalab & Kankiv Castles

There is a clear line running through the history of Transcarpathia during the early Middle Ages. That line is the Mongol Invasion of 1241 – 1242. From the time period preceding the invasion very little castle architecture exists, nearly all fortifications were destroyed by the Mongols. In the years that followed the invasion and ravaging of Transcarpathia, Hungarian King Bela IV (1235 – 1270) issued a decree that “castles be built on suitable sites where the people may find refuge if they have to retreat from threatening dangers.” This policy led directly to the building of hilltop, stone fortresses for defensive purposes across the Kingdom of Hungary. Castles soon began to dot strongpoints in Transcarpathia, a critical region for securing Hungary’s eastern frontiers. This construction program was a matter of national security. These castles also provided security for something just as vital to the interests and welfare of the Kingdom’s inhabitants, salt.

Nyalab Castle

Nyalab Castle – one of the strongest defensive fortifications along the Salt Road during the Middle Ages

The Salt Road
Salt was one of the most important commodities in medieval times, literally a matter of life and death. Salt allowed for the preservation of food. Without preservation and the resulting ability to store foodstuffs, one bad harvest could doom a village to starvation. Salt also made travel possible. Without a sustainable supply of food, it was impossible to travel far afield. For these reasons, a plentiful supply of salt was of the utmost necessity. Central and Eastern Europe’s source for salt was Transylvania, which held bountiful reserves. After mining, the salt would then be transported westward via rivers systems. The Tisza River was an integral part of this route. The Kingdom of Hungary had to ensure that the transport trail was secure. Castles were constructed on hilltops along the salt road of the Tisza. Remnants of a couple of these castles can still be seen today.

A series of ruins stands atop a 40 meter high hill overlooking the Tisza River valley close to the town of Korolevo, Ukraine. In Slavic, Korolevo means “king’s house.” This name is derived from the original Hungarian name for that same place, Kiralyhaza. It was on top of this hill where the Hungarian King Stephen V erected a wooden hunting lodge. Later the hill was fortified with what became known as Nyalab castle, guarding the salt road along the nearby Tisza. Today the castle ruins do not look like much, little more than a few rough walls and stone stubs. They could easily be mistaken for natural rock formations if they garner any notice at all. This is historically deceptive. For centuries Nyalab Castle was one of the strongest defensive fortifications in the region. This eventually led to its downfall. The Habsburg emperor Leopold ordered it blown up in 1672 so that rebellious Hungarians could no longer use it to defend against his forces.

Painting of St. Francis Assisi Church and the adjacent tower at Nyalab Castle

Painting of the church and adjacent tower at Nyalab Castle from the 16th century

A Fight From Start To Finish – Kankiv Castle
Further down the Tisza lies the small city of Vynohradiv in Ukraine, with the ruins of Kankiv Castle standing nearby on Chorna Hora (Black Mountain). Enough of the castle’s remnants still exist to give some idea of what the original structure looked like. The castle was built in the shape of a square with a tower on each corner. Unlike other castles in Transcarpathia that enjoyed relative peace until the 16th century, Kankiv Castle was nearly ruined not long after it was first constructed. This was due to a succession fight for the Hungarian throne after the Arpad Dynasty collapsed at the beginning of the 14th century. The castle was sacked by the troops of the eventual victor King Charles Robert. Fortunately the new king had it restored and gave Kankiv as a gift to his wife. The Perenis, a powerful family of nobles gained ownership of the castle in the 15th century. During this time they allowed Franciscan monks to build a Gothic Church known as St. Francis of Assisi’s along with a monastery on the grounds. The entire complex was enclosed by defensive walls. In the 16th century the head of the Pereni household converted to Protestantism and forced the monks out of Kankiv. Before their eviction, the Franciscans placed a curse on the castle. Either by coincidence, superstition or happenstance the curse turned out to be ominously prescient. Not long afterwards Kankiv was reduced to ruins by the pro-Catholic Habsburgs in their war against rebelling Protestant nobles throughout the region.

Kankiv Castle

Kankiv Castle – the ruins that are left today can still stir the imagination

Relegated To Ruins – Transcarpathia’s Past
Very little is left of either Nyalab or Kankiv Castles. Casting a glance back through the history of the region it is easy to see why they were relegated to ruins. The region they were located within served as a proto-typical frontier. The Mongols may never have come back in force, but Transcarpathia experienced the violent excesses of invading Turks, Tatars and Transylvanians, Hungarians, Poles and Austrians. These peoples were fighting for power, land and resources. The legacy of centuries of struggle left scars on the landscape, but these are now barely noticeable. Today hardly anyone in Transcarpathia gives a second thought to the ravages of the Mongols, the salt road or the ruins of Nyalab and Kankiv. Some might say that is a shame, but it also illustrates how far the remoter reaches of Europe have advanced beyond the day to day struggle of life and death. Progress has been made, even in this forgotten netherworld, if only someone would stop and recognize it.

The Last Place To Look First – Borzhava Castle, Vary Ukraine & Deep History

Travelers looking to visit the castles of Transcarpathia will not likely consider a trip to Vary. This small village with a population of 3,100 inhabitants, situated on the Ukrainian side of the Ukraine – Hungary border, would probably be last on a list of possible attractions for the traveler, if it was on any list at all. This is not surprising since Vary at first glance has very little to see concerning castles. It is deceptive because actually this dusty and forgotten village should be the first stop on a castle tour of the region. Paradoxically, this means the traveler will be looking for a place with very little remaining of its once prominent existence.

Vary, Ukraine

Vary, Ukraine – a forgotten place with a deep past (Credit: Gyure Fricy)

Protecting An Eleven Hundred Year Legacy – Hungarians & Transcarpathia
Vary may officially be in Ukraine today, but both its past and present like so much of the eastern fringes of Transcarpathia is informed by Hungary. Eighty percent of the Vary’s inhabitants are ethnic Hungarian, it has been this way for well over 1,100 years. Ever since the Hungarians first arrived in the Carpathian Basin around the year 896 they have dominated the area. Not long after their arrival the Hungarians imposed their presence on the landscape. They selected the Vary area for a castle/fortification because it lay at the confluence of the Tisza and Borzsova Rivers. Rivers were trade routes and transportation corridors, the lifeblood for commerce in the early Middle Ages.  The fortification was built near the mouth of the Borzhava River to control this strategic point, it would become known as Borzhava Castle.

Location matters in history, the confluence of the two rivers was the decisive factor in the placement of Borzhava Castle, one of the first defensive structures in what would become the Kingdom of Hungary. This was a place informed as much by geography and topography as by the designs of man. Due to the fact that only the barest of details exist about its structure, the actual design of Borzhava is open to interpretation. It was not a stereotypical early medieval castle. The defenses were constructed out of earth and wood. A description of such works is given in the essay Castle Construction in Hungary by Tibor Koppany who describes them as “not castles in the modern sense…the wooden outer walls, supported by inner wooden trellises and partitions, filled with earth.”  For the time, these types of works were considered to be the most impregnable.

Hungarian King Béla IV fleeing from the Mongols

Hungarian King Béla IV fleeing from the Mongols (Credit: Szechenyi National Library Budapest)

The Coming of the Mongols & The Devastation of Hungary
If geography is destiny, than the location of Borzhava marked it out for historical importance, but also destined it for obliteration. Its position on the eastern frontiers of the Kingdom turned out to be highly precarious. Borzhava was an adequate defense until a new foe suddenly appeared out of the East in the 13th century, the Mongols. According to historical sources word first began to trickle into the Carpathian Basin about the ferocity of the Mongols from Russian boyars (land owning nobility) who had fled the rampaging horsemen. The boyars were granted asylum in Hungary by King Bela IV. In 1237, a Dominican Friar by the name of Julianus made a pilgrimage to the banks of the Volga River in search of a Hungarian tribe that had branched off from the original Magyar tribes in their movement westward across the Asian steppes. Julianus found the tribe, but of even greater interest he discovered the Mongols were heading westward, conquering all before them. When he returned to Hungary a couple of years later Julianus carried a message from the Mongol leader Batu Khan, demanding that Bela IV surrender the Kingdom of Hungary. The message was ignored. Soon thereafter, the Cumans, a tribe that had been expelled from the steppes by the Mongols showed up in Hungary and were granted asylum. They also carried a message from the Khan demanding surrender. These warnings were ominous, but King Bela IV of Hungary and the Kingdom’s ruling elite paid little heed to the danger before it was too late.

In 1241 the Mongols suddenly appeared, conducting raids with lightning speed. Borzhava Castle and its defensive works never had a chance it was quickly destroyed. Once these eastern defenses were breached the whole of the Hungarian Plain lay open. The Mongols would go on to devastate Eastern Hungary, cross the Danube and ravage much of western Hungary. The only places in Hungary that withstood this onslaught were hilltop fortresses. When the Mongols retreated, the Hungarians were left with their country in ruins. Bela IV had to figure out how to protect the kingdom from another such incursion. In the aftermath of the invasion, the defensive fortifications of Hungary underwent an irreparable change. A massive rebuilding project was ordered by Bela IV. Defensive structures made of earth and wood would no longer be of use. Formidable hilltop castles made of stone were optimal for security of the kingdom. This meant that Borzhava would not be rebuilt. Its topographical situation made it much too vulnerable. The flatlands were no longer suitable for the kingdom’s defenses.

Sumeg Castle in western Hungary

Hilltop fortresses such as Sumeg Castle in western Hungary – were the types of defensive works that King Bela IV commissioned to secure the Kingdom of Hungary from another Mongol invasion (Credit: Balla Béla)

Traces of the Past – Etched In the Landcsape
The first era of Hungary’s castle/fortress architecture had come to an abrupt end with the Mongol Invasion. Borzhava Castle was no more, but settlement in the area would soon resurface and this time for good. In 1320 the village was given the name Vari. The word var in Hungarian means castle. This is one legacy of Borzhava Castle that survives in Vary to the present day. Physical evidence also remains. The discerning eye can still make out mounds, trenches and earthworks that were once part of the complex. The fact that anything at all remains is simply amazing given the changes that nature and man have wrought on the rivers and landscape.  Vary will not make anyone’s list of must see places, but it is worth a visit just to see the traces of a past that against time and fate still remains.

From the Golden Arches to the Golden Age – Hungary & The Matyo People: Triumph of Tradition

In present times the nation state is supreme. People are identified by nationality as much or more than ethnicity. The nation in which they live is the most important arbiter of their economic, political and especially cultural way of life.  It is hard to imagine not that long ago nations barely existed. During bygone eras, kingdoms, principalities, city-states and empires both large and small ruled over people from many different ethnic backgrounds speaking a multiplicity of languages. The nation that is today the republic of Hungary looks back to those bygone centuries when it was a kingdom as an age of glory. Local cultures and traditions flourished, folk customs added a vivid richness to life. That has now all changed. Some would say it has all been for the better, others say it has been for the worse.

The Empire of the New – All Conquering & All Consuming
Sure there are immense benefits to being a Hungarian national (universal education and health care) and also a citizen of the European Union (a common market, greater employment opportunities). Conversely, this has led to homogenization, mainly for economic expediency (English as the international language of business, chain stores offering the same products in many different countries). It is almost unfathomable to grasp the astonishing rapidity with which this has occurred.  Globalization continues to expedite the process. The world may well come to be conquered by materialism. It is doubtful if the world population will ever come close to speaking the same language but everyone may well share a single, common trait, consumerism.

Nyugati Station (Western Railway Station) - Another Dream from Eiffel

Nyugati Station (Western Railway Station) in Budapest – Another Dream from Eiffel

For the modern traveler to countries such as Hungary this creates a quandary. They are confronted with unique cultural attributes which exist side by side with the same symbols of capitalism they find back home. Hungary is known for paprika and goulash, Buda and Pest, but it also has stores such as Zara and New Yorker, Aldi and Tesco. Sometimes these have even taken over trendy, historic areas. This trend is pervasive across all of Europe. The empire of the new, of consumerism conquerors or at the very least incorporates all. The juxtaposition of old and new can be surreal. For instance, a visitor disembarks at the iron and glass Nyugati (western) train station in Budapest. They step inside and are awestruck by the gigantic glass covered space filled with trains and passengers. This striking example of late 19th century architecture was conceived by none other than the famed Eiffel Company. They created something unique and timeless, a structure that speaks across the generations.

The Old World & the New One - coexist at Nyugati station in Budapest

The Old World & the New One – coexist at Nyugati station in Budapest

Traveling Back In Time – From Nyugati to Mezokovesd
In this same station the visitor finds that touchstone of modern capitalism, a McDonald’s restaurant. It is conveniently housed in the station’s original dining hall. Here we have the world’s most ubiquitous fast food establishment occupying a magnificent space. Looking at the walls, the ceiling, the decorative elements, it feels as though a belle époque ball is about to break out at any moment. Then again, it might also be time to order a Big Mac. Long lines extend outward from each cash register as patrons stare longingly at a menu hocking burgers, fries and McNuggets. This most likely distracts the customer from the incredible chandelier hanging above the hall. Is this the golden arches or golden age? It gets confusing. And this is one of many bizarre moments where old Europe meets modern Europe.

This can leave the visitor searching for authentic culture, something pure, something real, something traditional and unique. Fortunately, the real thing is just a rail ride away. In just a little over two hours the rail lines from Nyugati can transport visitors to a fantastical place filled with vibrant folk culture, a place called Mezokovesd. This small little city of 18,000 inhabitants seems unprepossessing at first. It has a nice baroque church, neatly swept streets, a fine town hall, like so many other Hungarian settlements of a similar size. Then the visitors arrives at the district of Hadas and everything changes. It is filled with white washed, thatch roofed 19th century peasant homes. A deeper look inside reveals the houses are alive with age old traditions. Doll and furniture making, weaving and embroidering all take place inside.

Matyo people in the 19th century - a rich pageant called life

Matyo people in the 19th century – a rich pageant called life

The Matyo People – What Legends Are Made Of
This is the legacy of the Matyo people, who in the 19th century soared to prominence with their colorful, ornamented peasant costumes in a Hungarian kingdom full of peasants. Legend has it that their skillful embroidery started during the times of the Turkish menace. When a young Matyo man was kidnapped by the Turks, it was said that a girl who was in love with him pleaded for his release. The sultan demanded that she pay a seemingly impossible ransom. She was to go out in the dead of winter, gather all the flowers she could find in the snow covered meadows and frozen forests. The girl being quite resourceful embroidered her apron with all the flowers of spring and summer. The astounded Sultan set her free. A wonderful story made a bit more believable by the elaborate handiwork of Matyo embroidery.

The Matyo Museum is the place to see the stuff that legends are made of. The Matyo have woven dreams into reality. Clothes and linens display a fabulous array of colorful patterns.  Take for instance, the aprons which have a black or dark blue background. They are covered with floral designs done with flat stitched embroidery. The hand drawn patterns emphasize floral designs such as tulips and roses. Rich colors embellish the linens in a mesmerizing complexity. And this is no static folk art. It is constantly being reimagined, building on foundations from the past to create new and dynamic ensembles.

Matyo embroidery - a wealth of beauty and complexity

Matyo embroidery – a wealth of beauty and complexity

The Essence of Beauty
Is it any wonder that the most in demand embroidery of Central Europe comes from the Matyo people? In this area of northeastern Hungary between the Bukk Hills and Tisza River a rich culture flourishes. In the lavish embroidery we see the essence of Matyo creativity, beauty distilled to its purest form. We also see the triumph of tradition over modernity.

A Lace Covered Woman Dancing In the Moonlight – Szeged: Hungary’s Finest

Szeged, the largest city in southeastern Hungary and one of the largest in the nation will be forever linked with the Tisza River. This watercourse led to everything from the city’s name, its development, destruction and finally a reconstruction of eye popping grandeur. The city’s inseparability from the Tisza goes all the way back to its very beginnings and continues to this very day.

The Naming of Szeged – A River Flows Through It
There is some question as to how Szeged received its name. Up to three different versions are given. What is not in question is that the Tisza plays a prominent role in each of these. The name may first have come from an old Hungarian word for corner – szeg – referring to the bend in the Tisza where Szeged is situated. Another theory is that Szeged’s name derived from the Hungarian word for island, sziget. Since islands are surrounded by water and the Tisza often flooded the land on which Szeged stands, undoubtedly the river played a large role in this derivation. A third theory is that the name derived from that same Hungarian word – szeg – which can also mean dark blonde. This might possibly be a reference to the color of the Tisza’s waters after its confluence with the Maros River just upstream from Szeged. Whatever the truth, Szeged’s linkage to the Tisza has the deepest of roots.

The Tisza River at Szeged - calm for now

The Tisza River at Szeged – calm for now

Controlling Chaos – Man & the Attempt To Master The Tisza
These roots are apparent not only on the city’s riverfront, but also in Szeged’s main square, Szechenyi ter. The square, like so many in Hungarian cities, contains several statues of famous Hungarians. These include such luminaries as the first King of Hungary, Stephen and his wife, Gisella who was Hungary’s first queen. Another is of Ferenc Deak, the man most responsible for the historic compromise agreement with Austria that created the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. This pantheon continues on the southern end of the square where its namesake is located, Istvan Szechenyi. Called by many “the greatest Hungarian” due to his highly successful efforts in developing the country, he brought steamships to the Tisza and by extension Szeged. The other statues on the square are not easily recognizable, even to most Hungarians, yet the people they portray were vital to the development of both the Tisza and Szeged.

Statue of Pal Vasarhelyi in Szeged - the engineer who tried to tame the Tisza

Statue of Pal Vasarhelyi in Szeged – the engineer who tried to tame the Tisza

One statue is of Pal Vasarhelyi, an engineer who in the 1840’s was the mastermind behind plans to finally tame the chaotic waters of the flood prone Tisza. The river was to be straightened by cutting off over one hundred of its bends. This could shorten the Tisza by a good 250 miles. A seemingly endless series of dikes would also be built, which could reclaim millions of acres of land from submersion. Getting the mighty Tisza under control was highly controversial project. Landowners adjacent to its banks were either big winners or losers. They might gain land, but also lose access. As for Vasarhelyi, he never saw his plans come to fruition as he succumbed to a massive heart attack even before the restructuring of the river began. Just the strain from planning the project was enough to do him in. Nonetheless it went forward. The power of the Tisza was harnessed for industry and commerce, but only temporarily.

Szeged and the devastation of the 1879 flood - painting by Pal Vágó (Ferenc Mora Museum)

Szeged and the devastation of the 1879 flood – painting by Pal Vágó (Ferenc Mora Museum)

Devastation & Recreation – Imagination Unshackled By History
The other statue on the square is of Lajos Tisza, a man who shared the river’s name and would make another name for himself following the Tisza’s return to its flood prone ways. Even though the river had been relatively benign since its confinement in the mid-19th century, this period would turn out to be the proverbial calm before the storm. In the spring of 1879, the river reasserted itself with a ferocity that had never before been experienced. In March, a catastrophic flood occurred which destroyed 6,600 structures in Szeged, approximately 97% of the city’s structures. No other Hungarian city in modern times has ever suffered such a disaster. Even the damage wrought upon Budapest during the World War II siege of the city pales in relative comparison. Incredibly this was not the end of Szeged. Instead it almost immediately led to a new and astonishingly vibrant beginning for the city.

Szeged would become the ultimate proof that a city can not only survive a natural disaster, but thrive in its wake. Within a week of the flood, the Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef arrived in the city to view the damage. He proclaimed that Szeged would not only be rebuilt, but it would be even more beautiful than it was before. He wasn’t kidding! The point man for the city’s reconstruction was none other than Lajos Tisza who had been the Minister of Labor and Transport. He led a rebuilding effort of historic proportions, both then and now. The city sported a dazzling array of buildings in the architectural style known as eclecticism. Brightly colored buildings, broad streets and grand squares came to define the new Szeged. It became one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Even today it seems to be eternally set in the Belle Epoque (Golden Age) of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A burst of intellectual, artistic and architectural creativity was the upshot of this age. Szeged provides the ultimate eye candy for imperial architecture buffs. Its historic buildings bear witness to what the Hungarian creative imagination can accomplish when unleashed from the shackles of history.

Szeged's Varoshaza (Town Hall) - one of numerous architectural beauties in the city

Szeged’s Varoshaza (Town Hall) – one of numerous architectural beauties in the city

Illuminated & Reunited – The Tisza & Szeged
Among Szeged’s most striking buildings is the Varoshaza (Town Hall). On an early autumn day, set beneath a deep blue sky, its creamy exterior literally glows. Multiple stories of windows are framed by fiery red flowers. Atop the hall sits a small tasteful tower, a crown of neo-Baroque stylishness. The Varoshaza is one of many such buildings that are representative of Szeged’s enchanting beauty. Years after the rebuilding, a writer remarked that Szeged was like “a lace covered woman dancing in the moonlight.” When that moonlight reflects off the waters of the Tisza and Szeged is illuminated in the half light, the river and the city are reunited once and for all time.

 

The Last Train To Zahony

Entering Nyugati Palyudvar (Western Railway Station) in Budapest I like to walk about 20 meters into the main hall and look up at the Arrivals/Departures board. Here is where the list of trains and their routes are displayed. I habitually avoid the arrivals side of the board which I find deeply depressing for some strange reason. Conversely, the departures always fill me with hope, of a new adventure, a new place, a way to both dream and at the same time quell the restlessness that is forever threatening to propel me once again into the middle of nowhere. I am only interested in those departures that go to places I have never been.

The Arrivals & Departures Board At Nyugati

The Arrivals & Departures Board At Nyugati

Reading the destinations of the soon to be departing trains, Cegled and Szeged, Brasov and Bucharest, Miskolc and Monor, these names capture my imagination. Cegled brings to mind its stately red brick station, Szeged the colorful eclecticism of its sparkling Belvaros, Brasov is code for Saxons, Bucharest for Ceaucescu, while the name Miskolc seems steely, an anachronistic synonym for heavy industry and Monor either  means “I don’t know” or “I’ve never been.”  My favorite route on the board is the  Airport-Debrecen-Zahony train. This is one I’ve been on many times, but never managed to make it to the last stop. Zahony is the final stop, both literally and figuratively, not just for that route, but for trains in Hungary. Zahony is tucked into Hungary’s northeastern corner, just south of the Tisza River and the Ukraine. The name Zahony is one that many travelers  have come to know, but only for a couple of hours. It is memorable only as a jumping off point to the wilder east. It is here in Zahony where the EU ends and a whole other world begins. Here is the last gasp of the Latin script, cross the Tisza and the words are scrawled in Cyrillic. Zahony has become a point of abrupt transition created by the hand of geo-politics. An invisible line drawn by “experts” in smoky Parisian conference rooms nearly a century ago following the First World War, demarcated the border and destined Zahony as a point of transit. It is said that geography is destiny, but with the rise of the nation state geo-politics became destiny. A place where everything changes because the powers that be decided so. Zahony is where several rail lines cross and where travelers also cross the border. No one comes to Zahony to stay, it is a place where many go and almost everyone leaves.

Train Tracks at Zahony

Train Tracks at Zahony

I find myself sitting around aimlessly in the evenings thinking of Zahony. I really have no idea why? I know that if I did visit, it would just be to cross the border and then it would fade for good into that endless litany of places that I can never quite remember. I imagine Zahony dark and downtrodden, filled with a surfeit of smugglers, moneylenders and petty criminals. A city pockmarked with social-realist architecture, a few blocks of high rise flats and a populace either waiting on deliverance, death or a way out. I hope to someday make it to Zahony, hop off the train, take a long glance at the place, but not chance a walk around town, then transit on into the Ukraine. It is said that in the 1820’s the famous Austrian diplomat Prince Klemens Von Metternich once stated that “Asia begins at the Landstrasse” the royal highway leading east out of Vienna towards Hungary. Maybe two hundred years ago that was true, but today perhaps Asia begins at the crossing of the Tisza in Zahony where the traveler then enters the Ukraine. A different language, a different alphabet, different politics and different people all await, a new world revealing itself in all its dissimilarity. This is Europe, but not quite. Here is Asia, but not yet. It is nowhere and everywhere. Maybe that is why I want to go to Zahony and beyond it.